Iatmul canoe shield, Middle Sepik River PNG
Tribal Bod Mod

Iatmul canoe shield, Middle Sepik River PNG

Regular price $380.00 $0.00 Unit price per
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Item details

Vintage from the 1950s

An Oceanic Iatmul ceremonial canoe prow shield, Middle Sepik River, New Guinea, circa 1950s. Made of palm leaf spathes, rattan, carved wood, cassowary feathers, fiber, and pigment. The palm spathes are lashed to a frame, with a carved and painted wooded mask attached in the middle.. These fixtures were installed on the prow of a large dugout raiding canoe, serving as a defensive mechanism against arrow shots as well as functioning as a spear rest. The central carved wood mask represents a clan protective spirit, or 'wagen'. It has the typical long, narrow face, bulging eyes and round, screaming mouth designed to intimidate the enemy, while possessing its own magic powers to protect the paddlers. This example is finished with weathered trade paint and still has most of its fiber and feather decorations intact. In the days when inter tribal warfare was an everyday event, men from one village would travel to another village by canoe to ambush and attack, with the intention of taking heads. Larger canoes could carry 30 or more warriors who also served as paddlers. The major offensive and defensive weapons for these groups were the bow and arrow, except for in close fighting when spears and clubs were used. If a hostile canoe was discovered attempting a landing at an enemy village the paddlers were exposed to a shower of arrows and, to protect themselves, they erected this special prow shield. When a raiding canoe was attacked, it has been recorded that an older woman was often positioned in the front of the canoe to hold the shield and mask in front of her and support it with her body.

As an interior design feature, this large mask is stunning and is ideal for large walls or spaces. In our home it dominates the entry area, complimenting various tribal shields. Measures about 4 feet wide by 3 1/2 feet on the vertical.